Why Iraq and Afghanistan Have No Police

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I noted yesterday that the U.S. has failed to build a police force in Iraq that can keep some semblance of order and doesn’t engage in torture and abuse on a widespread basis. But apparently there hasn’t been much success building up police forces in Afghanistan either. Why is that? Vance Serchuk has a long reported piece in the Weekly Standard trying to figure it out:

[B]uilding foreign police, it turns out, is something that the American government is expressly designed not to be able to do–the legacy of a 1974 congressional ban that abolished USAID’s Office of Public Safety, previously charged with these missions. Although exceptions to the act have since crept onto the statute books, their cumulative effect has been to make police assistance into a second-tier, ad hoc responsibility of several different agencies and actors scattered throughout the executive branch.

Just to be clear, then: one of the most important tasks for trying to piece a failed state back together again is an “ad hoc responsibility of several different agencies.” Serchuk notes that in Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the State Department are currently battling over who will control the police, and the result is constant skirmishing “over issues like which contractors to hire, what tactics the Afghan police can be taught, and whether key individuals should work out of the U.S. embassy or the military compound.” One can imagine the situation isn’t much better in Iraq. And short of a massive bureaucratic reorganization, this doesn’t seem like a problem that will be fixed anytime soon.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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